SIKHS AND PAKISTAN : REFLECTIONS INSPIRED BY A NOSTALGIC VISIT [Part Extract]

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Friday Jan 16 – Christian Study Center am & Pindi city pm

An interfaith meeting was organized by Christian Study Center in Rawal Pindi to meet with our group. Presentations were made by the various functionaries of the center, a young Muslim activist, a Hindu representative. No Sikh was present. The main points that emerged were:

  • The inter faith work started a few years back at the initiative of the Center. Soon thru the help of people like Col S K Tressler [ Hindu converted Xian] the work got some support from the majority community activists. One such person I met was Qazi Arif Hussain, a lawyer.
  • The concerns of the minorities included that they do not have representation in the Senate. Minorities were offered separate electorates but possibly recognizing the mistrust on loyalties that it may have generated in pre partition India, the minorities chose to stay with the mainstream with in joint electorate system. My comment was that one seat in Senate may give them some added access but will not give them any power. To achieve some leverage they must try and use more networking skills and acquire some power thru excellence or accomplishment.
  • The minority educational institutions were nationalized. A couple of these have now been returned to minority control. They want more coming back. I asked about management personnel and teaching staff, academic resources. They don’t have. Given that situation the practical problem is that the level of control or leadership exercised by the owner communities cannot be sustained in the changed circumstances. They have to seriously work to find these resources again partly from their communities to have a credible directional control.
  • To my query as to how the agenda is set for inter faith work the idea I get is that the majority has the main say. Each faith has some representation but the weightage is not clear. The movement can drift the same way as in the US – mainly helping spread some awareness and faith representation only to present a façade of inclusiveness with the controls firmly in the hands of mainstream.
  • Some minority problems are very real eg Hindus have problem cremating their dead in some communities. They also have not been allowed to install idols in the Mandirs vandalized post Babri Masjid incident in India.
  • Most minorities are very poor esp Sikhs. Xians have bettered their lot starting from their conversion from the untouchables mainly. Sindhi Hindus are in business and relatively economically ok.

I asked Haneef Sada, Director of the Center to get me a cab to go round the city. He considered it not advisable to go alone and sent me in his vehicle with a driver and one more person.

Tressler has been a Minister for Minority Affairs and there is a deprtment dealing with that subject. The Xians are about 3%.

Visit to the City

The Christian Study Center is off of Murree Road – a road that I remember. It was on this road that I first faced the fury of hostile communal attack. I was in the Hostel at Lahore. When the disturbances flared up in Rawal Pindi area in March 1947, soon Lahore also became affected. Curfew was imposed and in a couple of days seeing no respite the College decided that we all should go home and return once situation improved. The reason as given I recall was lack of rations available. We were left at the Railway Station from where I took the night train to Pindi. Arriving there the scene was tense. At the station we were received by Sikhs [as I recall] who carried lathis and had mandasas tied and who collected all Hindu & Sikh passengers and told us that the things were bad and that they had arranged a bus to take people to the city bus stand near Imperial Cinema. We all got there safe but I and some others had to go further to Kartar Pura etc. They said the route could be hazardous both via Raja Bazar and Murree Road. After some time the driver and a couple of volunteers said they would take us via Murree Road because the road is wider and may be open. We started out and soon as we turned into the Muslim populated area the people who saw us started pelting stones and missiles at the bus. The driver sped along with all of us heads down but missed the turning into Kartar Pura and we landed in another area where a Hindu family gave us shelter. We were standing at the roof top as the evening approached and I saw a military armored car coming down the road. I ran down and out to the road waving my College ID and shouting for them to stop. The British officer stopped and I screamed that I am a student of FC College, Lahore and —-, now stranded like this. He thought and then said – ok we are going the other way bus if your bus can follow us we can leave you where you have to go. I came back and to every body’s relief we left our sanctuary homeward.

When people at the center asked me if I remembered Murree Road I said yes but I will tell you the story another time. The Center has high walls and a steel gate – kept locked. The inner compound is sizeable with parking for a few cars and a small garden plus residential accommodation for the Director. It has a reasonable infrastructure in terms of space, library, computers and staff. One of the staff, Roma, told me she was from Sikh family background. She said she had been to Amritsar and seeing her the people had said that she must be Sikh because they said they could recognize their daughters. I did not ask her story – she must be around 40 and should be second generation. The beginning of her and Tressler story must be with their parents. Tressler is around 65 and would have been a small boy in ’47. He told me he has a brother with the same initials living in Agra and that brother continues to be Hindu.

We go to Gordon College on College Road [name now changed] – Veena’s Dad had explained me the location of their house and I wanted to take a couple of pictures for him. Also Ujagar had been to that College. The area is now a mess – I spent a long while orienting myself. Located the Imperial Cinema, walked to the near cross road [DAV College Road] and then took some pictures from which my father in law could place where he had grown up. A shade of disappointment because my father in law became pensive seeing the pictures, looked on and then said this is not where they lived. I do understand because the place has deteriorated and it is perhaps hurtful to the memory. I felt the same way when I saw the house in Katar Pura which I had seen my mother supervise being built and where we had lived a few months – at that time it was perhaps the first one with terrazzo flooring and what seemed lovely doors and windows along a pretty street. I could only recognize the place from the terrazzo steps leading in but it id dilapidated. I took the pictures with me when I met Ujagar on return to join in grief over Bind’s death while I was at Pindi – and when I mentioned Gordon College he smiled wanly – really – but said he will see the picture another time.

Onto Raja Bazar – busy; karol Bagh; Char Minar; Bazar Mai Sewan – they are all the same. Took a couple of pictures with sign saying Raja Bazar; a Bata Shoe shop and the milling urban traffic.

One way circuituous route to Mai Veero Ban – the pond has been filled up and there are hundreds of stalls like Lajpat Market of old which must have been built when refugees came for they would have settled in these parts in properties left by us, all selling fowl; cut and dressed in your presence. Strong smell pervades the area. I stop near where the road forks to Hari Pura and Kartar Pura and am looking at the building where my uncle Dr Pritam Singh had his clinic [masrey di hatti]. It looked the same – the same big doorway entrance at the fork, very prominent. As I am looking on and thinking that possibly the owner had two sons who split the building because one side had a different color of paint than the others – a small crowd gathers and a person walks upto me and says that was Pritam’s. I hold him in a hug; thank him for remembering it; tell him he was my uncle and that I had so many memories of the place. I also wonder how would he know. He may have been in his early 60’s at the most and would have been just a child in 47. I ask him his name and wnt a picture with him. He says no to both – no I will tell you my name nor get a picture taken. I am overwhelmed and tears flood up my eyes. I bend and touch that soil – to me it seems sort of miraculous to be there and for some one to remember one of us 56 years later. I gather myself and don’t see the man – I thank others and move on towards Kartar Pura.

I may mention here that on getting back to Delhi I called Surinder, my cousin, and told him about my visit, the incident and that I had brought the picture and would like him to see it. He said he will talk to Cuckoo and plan for we must get together. I left Delhi after about a month – no response or call. Perhaps most of us have come to terms with that part of our memory and grief and don’t want to re visit it. What is closed does not need a closure. May be if I had not gone back my response and reaction would have been the same but Buddy, Pubby and Baby all responded differently – more like I did. Is it the way all these are men – trying to just show bravado.

On the way I try orienting to locate the street where my aunt lived but possibly we drove past. Close to where our house used to be I stop and get down, walk around to find the location. The road has been encroached – there are shops on both sides. I take a couple of pictures. Don’t really like what I see. I am tempted to knock at the door of our presumptive ex-house but resist temptation lest I get beaten up in conservative Pakistan for no man may be home at time of the day.

I say we go back and as we turn back I see a sign for a phone-in place. I ask the driver to turn in and we stop at a house bearing the sign. I called Veena at Delhi and she interrupted my story to tell me that Bind had died in an accident in the US and gave me Ujagar’s number. That was the end of the call for we both had no more to say. I thought I will call Ujagar in the evening for this would be past midnight there. As I come out a new Honda goes by and then stops. Two young boys [men] come out and want to talk – finding that I am from US want help to get visa to the US. I say I can get them the infe and one gives me his contact info: Sheikh Kashif Yousef; cell phone – 0333-512 3181; email [email protected] . I still have this promise to keep. I still have the paper on which the both owner wrote down Ujagar’s phone # as Veena gave it because he could understand the distress situation we were in.

Haneef Sada and a couple of his colleagues come along with the intent of attending the afternoon session of talks by Norton & Roger at IPS. On the way they stop to see one of their Christian compatriots who had had an accident. The house was in a nice area but he did not have his name board outside. Possibly non Muslims don’t. It may not be an asset. Also Haneef said most Christians have one part of name Muslim like his. Seems also confirmed by Dominic Moghal case.

His friend’s mother served us tea – frugal but so homely. He had one whole leg in plaster and had obviously suffered greatly but was now coming along. The accident happened quite a way and help took time in coming and then he ended up in a small village dispensary – later brought to Pindi and treated. He was A PhD but did not seem very well off. I did not enquire why with his education – not the right time but I sensed that possibly the compensation levels are low and opportunities are limited – though should not be for Christians with all the schools and colleges they had. Leaves room for thought and remove misconceptions.

We get back to IPS and decide not to attend the session. It may be late. The session finished some time later. In the evening, rather late, I was returning to my room when I saw Colleen and she asked if I would go with her across to the shops because she wanted to buy some stuff. Though late I went along – she may not have ventured out alone anyway. We went into a shop we had before and I wanted to call Ujagar so I asked where Could I make the call from. A young boy in the shop volunteered to take me and talking eagerly on the way kept saying these people this – that and I wondered who are they and how are he I,us. Having made the call, he brought me back – the call was a very tearing experience. Ujagar was devastated and repeating – I have been asking where is Nirmal. He is needed now. I said I will go to Panja Sahib and Nankana Sahib and pray for Bind. He was distraught but said I should finish what I was doing and that it was important for us all.

Back at the shop, I helped Colleen negotiate prices for all that she wanted – good bargains. In the meanwhile the owner slid up to me and said I am a Hindu. I was surprised. It was a good store and was doing well. I also now understood we and they – talking about how we do and how they do [help/response etc].His name was Jiv Raj, a Sindhi shop, Paras Handicrafts, Shop #1, Block # 12 D, Jinnah Super Market, Sector F-7; phone 265 1037, mobil 0300 511 7492, email [email protected].

Visit International Islamic University, Fisal Mosque, IRI round table – Saturday Jan 17, am

We went to the varsity via the mosque – an imposing structure; modernistic, with pointed spires; a couple of thousand can pray. Heavy rain had left pools of water – had to take off shoes to go up the steps. Few of us did it – I, colleen, Faris and possible Anna. We could only peep in thru small glass panes because it was locked.

The varsity campus [only part] is big. Received by Justice Rahman we had some cold drinks/tea as he made his presentation on the varsity, org, programs and plans. He was a bit diffident to say he was the head but people questioned and he said yes – all reported to him including the President of the Varsity. Then to a sort of exchange with faculty and audience at IRI. The attendees in the fairly big hall included quite a few women – in various stages of purda. Main interest was the situation facing Islam in contemporary world. Norton and Roger were a great draw as usual. Colleen also received some questions on women’s issues. Even though there was no perceived inquiry I did intervene to explain the Sikh perspective on conflict/harmony and also the Sikh experience of stereotyping in the US which shows that those affected may not be those involved only. As such all of us need to work on these problems constructively.

Tired I went off to sleep after lunch and missed the afternoon ad-hoc session on women in the US at IPS.

Farewell dinner was at IPS. We were all asked to say something. My turn came around the middle. I was a shade more encouraging and positive than the rest. My reference plane was different. For me it was a sort of coming back and I felt thankful and I felt good. I also felt that whatever the constraints and limits our hosts had now some more people who would be friendlier and that is a gain in the modern world. Leaving we were given an IPS plaque as gift.

During the evening I was introduced to Mushfiq Ahmed who is  the Editor and Web Manager of IPS. Mushfiq is from Basali and agreed to take me to Banda, Basali and Panja Sahib the next morning at around 10. This was wonderful because even though Haneef Sada and Qazi had promised me to take me but they were trying to coordinate with Tressler and Om Parkash Narian, Sec Gen Hindu Balmic Sabha, House # 1752, Lal Kurti Bazar< Rawal pindi Cantt [ phone 556 5888?] and I had not received their confirmation. I therefore was thankful to accept Mushfiq’s offer.

In the evening I walk across to where Ibrahim was staying and meet him and Faris. They ask me to join them to go to an Afghan restaurant. With us also were some Turkish friends of Faris including HARUN CELIK who is a reporter based in Pakistan. Contact h,[email protected]; phone 0090 300 511 5710, street 36, house # 166, sector F 10/1, Islamabad.

When leaving Ibrahim pulled me to one side and asked if I would pay about 5000 to 6000 RS to my bill as IPS expenses had gone beyond what they thought. I asked at the desk the next evening that I wanted to pay but Salman refused to take any money saying he cannot accept cash without IPS authorization. I said others may have paid – he said none did at that Guest House. I asked him again next morning before checking out but he was adamant that he could not do that.

Sunday Jan 18 – visit to Basali, Banda and Panja Sahib

In the morning I tried connecting with Naneef Sada and Narian to find out if the plan to go to Panja Sahib was on but could not connect. At around 10:30, I got a call from reception that Mushfiq had arrived. I had a sigh of relief and joined him. Mushfiq waited for some time before a Pastry shop opened as he wanted to pick up some pastry before we left. He first took the road to Basali – he had an impression that I had ancestral relations there. It did take quite some time during our day trip before he realized that my mentioning Basali was in the context Of Banda where my maternal grandmother had a house. He also had an impression that Banda and Basali are adjoining villages which was not the case. Only the names are used conjointly indicating some linkage going back in time. It seems also to have been the practice in those parts like Chauntra Adhwal for my paternal grand parent’s village. It is also possible that earlier there may have been a trekking path between such villages which may not have been so far in distance as the road distances today are. The other possibility is that these villages were initially habilitated by people who may have been connected by some close interests in the earlier stages. Anyway how these connected name system gained currency would be an interesting insight into the history of how these habitations came about, grew and did their business of life.

Another aspect that could be interesting is that earlier there used to be Dhoks, sort of satellite habitations, next to these villages like Banda or Basali. I found from road marking stones that Dhoks continue to be. It would be interesting to see who live there and their economic relation with the main village. Earlier these were inhabited by the poor, mainly Muslims and Shudras who worked as farm labor and provided other services to relatively affluent Hindu/ Sikh inhabitants of the main villages. With the partition the people who occupied the properties now left unattended could have been the elements from Dhoks who drove the Hindu/Sikhs out or the refugees who came dispossessed from India. It would be interesting to see how the population changes would have occurred; who benefited; who filled the vacuum created by the entrepreneurial class’s exit and in a relative manner the refugees and old poor’s growth or development dynamics.

The road to Basali is now all paved. It is in fact off of the highway that goes on to Chauntra and beyond. Chauntra I believe now is part of Rawalpindi district. The road to Banda takes off from this highway about 10 km down from Basali and the village is another 10 km away. The road ends at the pond – ban – where the bus used to stop. Being a dead end the road is not frequented and growth has not taken place. All along the main road places like Rawat, Basali, Dhok etc seem more developed. There is quite a bit of traffic and lots of road side stalls that promote economic activity.

We first go to the house of Mushfiq’s brother – a retired Air Force Squadron Leader who flew Fighter jets, who now has taken to prayer and altruism. He has a well appointed place with a sunny terrace next to the kitchen and a couple of large furnished rooms. He was dressed in fresh white attire with a flowing beard and a pugree. Looked good, calm and well poised. We sat at the terrace, talked and enjoyed tea and pastry that Mushfiq had brought. The place had sanitation, running water, electricity and phone connection. The village had cars, scooters coming in and going out. The fields across were all yellow – the mustard flowers – seemed irrigation facilities were ok. A lot of persons working in the fields were women – no purda. I also hardly saw any signs of serious purda among women who were in cars or traveling – otherwise women were not seen walking around. He also had a couple of cows/buffalos for milk and chicken pen plus a couple of goats. Seemed well provided for organic living and looked a picture of health.

We leave from there and look around the village of Basali. On the way Mushfiq meets with a retired Subedar from the Punjab Regiment who is from the village and takes us around. Basali now has a girl’s college – is pretty large. We see the customary ban or pond going in. It is died up but has stone steps going down. There are a lot of shops in the main street. Drainage does not seem to be there. As we are coming out we see a group of people playing cards in the afternoon sun. Mushfiq points it to me because I had told him of my memories of Banda being of men sitting below the banyan tree playing cards as we got off the bus. I stand around watching and take a picture or two.

On the way to Banda Subedar Sahib tells me that in ’47 they had gathered all the Sikh/Hindus in the school and were going to forcibly convert or kill them when the rumour started that Sikhs from Majha are coming and all Muslims ran away. This saved their lives.

Banda was disappointing. It could be the product of expectations from memories as a child when we may have liked going there rarely as we did and my grandmother and family would have done some looking after. The place has running water, electricity, phones and the fields in valley below seemed green. Obviously the ban, pond, environment is neglected and water is nearly dried; the embankments are eroded; the banyan tree is almost dead. The entry to the village thus seems desultory with a dirt track

leading from there. I remember no fork as we came in and I took the right lane which took us round the habitation. I felt coming out that my orientation got even more hazy because possibly I remembered the setting from the left lane.

We could not find the house of my grandmother nor of Shahji next door. The present residents are from pok. We were taken into two houses – quite clean inside though mainly mixed kacha/pucca construction. The floors were swept. One had a few marigold and other flowering plants. He also had his father living with him – an arm retiree, sitting on a cot in the sun in receded place; not much cared for but not totally neglected either. The place was extended by terracing going down towards the dhakki – the man said the Sikh/Hindus living in Banda must have been poor. I kept quiet – they did not seem to be to me at the time. We saw another house where in a fair sized room they has 2/3 big sofas and a few other chairs, plastic flowers, TV etc.

Coming out they pointed out the old village mosque. Looked old – older than 57 years – stone construction though I somehow I had no memory of one. I must ask my brother and some others like Mama Tirlochan to understand what the village was about before ’47. The place has a school- met the head master [retired] – he seemed to remember Mama Jaswant and Inder but I don’t think he really placed them – not a reassuring experience like the one in Rawalpindi.

In the morning as we came Mushfiq had wanted to fill CNG in his car but the queue was so long it could have taken us in excess of an hour so he went and filled up petrol. I wanted to pay but he would not let me. As we were returning to Pindi he asked me if I would like to also see Panja Sahib. I said I would but it was getting late etc. He says not to worry and he stayed on GT road through a fairly nice area [Defence Colony?], thru Taxila, Wah [cement factory] onto Hasan Abdal. On the way he filled up CNG and on enquiry told me that driving on cng costs only about 75 p./km.

The entrance to Hasan Abdal is now a busy area – lots of restaurants, shops and stalls. We stop for eating before we go into the city – a nice meal of freshly cooked chicken with green pepper gravy and tandoor roti, salad, curd and some gulab jaman. Very tasty or may be we were just famished – and then onto the Gurdwara we go. The main entrance to the Gurdwara which had all those shops selling chana pathura, alu puri or actually luchis is closed. The shops are there but selling other things because the pilgrim traffic is a trickle. We are guided to go round the bend and thru the side door. We are able to park the Suzuki touching the Gurdwara wall in the narrow street and go in. Met as usual by a Govt security person sitting in an adjoining room who needs to know particulars of all visitors. I was told locals cannot come in unless they have ID or are accompanied by a Sikh.

It is a beautiful marble structure though in my memory it was much bigger than it actually is. We are met by a Sikh sewadar and as we go in we spot the inscription on the very first slab of person that caught our eye saying that it was in memory of husband of a Malhotra women from Banda – offering of Rs 500 made by the wife sometime in 1920’s. Mushfiq says that we are seeing a lot of Banda today and also remarked that it does not seem to have a village of poor Sikh/Hindus.

Inside the Gurdwara the Bhai Sahib asks me and does the ardas and reading of vak. He also gives me chhoharey and tikki parshad with a saropa. He then shows us round the place – I go to the site of the Panja – the water is beautiful clear and warmish. One could take a dip even though it had been a cold day, The sarovar is small and only about 4 ft deep. I should remember because I did try swimming there as a youngster without really being a swimmer. The fish are there as they used to be in lovely clear waters. A young boy comes and joins us and together we go to the langar where they give very nice fresh tea and ask us to stay for langar. I am told there are 4/5 families of Sikhs there. I did meet three men and three kids – a girl and two boys. They seem to be from NWFP and are obviously poor but are keeping the place well. They started the evening rehras when I was in the langar – and I knew because it was on the PA system. It was very touching to see those people who are taking care of this beautiful and very holy site for us living a life of isolation. Why so – we ran away to save our lives and make a future for ourselves and our children. How about their children – they are observant living and growing up there. We cannot be living in the lap of luxury in the US. They look poor and possibly are more poor than they look. Their children who had such pleasing freshness seemed contented even though their future may hold no promise better than their parent’s lot. How and why does God place us where we are – do we a responsibility here beyond purely satisfying our own need for pilgrimage and connecting with our lost heritage – a responsibility to those who are giving their today so that our children can go there tomorrow the same I am doing now. I feel humble; I feel selfish; I feel a betrayer; we have done nothing; we are doing nothing; we have just forgotten about these places and consigned them to ardas for till God grants us free access and control it is not our but the Creator’s problem.

I think the experience of visiting these places as individual can be very tearing – alone you recognize how alone and lonesome one can be. What could be the constraints facing the people who are doing this sewa – can they not do anything else – why are they persevering – is the heritage more important to them than us – and their issues of transmission. We go as a family there and in a group we may have our own sense of togetherness that may dull our senses to what the others may be experiencing – in a jatha we may think that the place is a mela year around and may not miss much. For now with few families there I asked about Ragis, kathakars – marriages; finding mates; schools; learning Gurmukhi and so on – they are trying to do all this by themselves while we sit and critique the quality of ragis every morning on Darbar Sahib’s televised program. And the place looked clean – I did see and ask about one patch about 6×4 with what could be moss looking up from the panja location. The langar was lived in – obviously that is where they cook and eat and offer to those who come. The serai is big; the rooms have amenities kept by these people for our jathas to descend twice in the year and have a comfortable stay.

We get back to Islamabad late at night. I leave next morning for Lahore and hopefully a visit to Nankana Sahib before returning to India.

Monday, Jan 19 – return to Lahore & Nanakana Sahib visit

Leaving early next morning I again asked Salman about contributing some to the costs. His response was the same as earlier. Rashed had gone to see off the group returning to the US because they had missed the flight the previous day – possibly cancelled for some reason. So ha sent Saeed to drop me off. At the Bus stand we arrived early and when I went in to confirm my reservation the girl asked me if I would like to take a bus that was leaving right then and offered me a good seat. I took the offer and asked Saeed to call Asif [or ask Rashed to do it] and let him know. The bus rolled off in a couple of minutes –  it was a shade cheaper Rs 320 instead of 400. It was not a luxury bus but the difference seemed imperceptible.

Some things noticed

  • Fruits – banana; they are very proud they developed cultivation of banana and mangos because they lost access to these on partition. Other fruits available are apples, guava [very good, pink, plentiful, popular]; kiwi; sapota;
  • Vegetables – not much variety seen or eaten – cauli, carrots, peas, radish, spinach, cucumber,
  • Sugar is large crystals, very sweet
  • Daily Times publishes an ads only paper ‘splash’ free
  • Suzuki pick ups converted to passenger transportation; very colorful; illuminated with colored lights
  • No rikshas seen; told only ply in Dera Ghazi Khan?
  • The M2 Motorway has fencing so no wild life or cattle can come in; no one seen walking; even hardly any birds showing no food source in close vicinity; highway Police all over – just parked; hardly any traffic that morning – not a single car passed or crossed us coming in opposite direction for a good part of the way
  • People drive at 90-100 km on GT road; POSSIBLY A REASON WHY M2 HAS NOT SUCCEEDED TO ATTRACT traffic with its toll charges and longer distances due to avoiding populated areas.
  • The country is sort of rough ravines upto Jehlum; then excellent farm lands. There are dirt tracks along distributaries; gets even greener near Gujrat; did not seen any farmers out but one ploughing with his buffalo bulls between Gujranwala and Lahore. More farming likely to be by using tractors.
  • One toll 34 km before Lahore; odonil sprayed in the bus. Another toll later @ 10 km with separate lanes for buses and trucks.
  • A village about 20 km before Lahore has mud houses and some nice brick ones, a mosque and a tractor with a trailer on the dirt track leading to the village.
  • Met a Pakistani retired Army officer Col Ghulam Rabbani, 165 Hali Road, Westridge, Rawalpindi Phone 546 2353, 547 3015. He has a son Naeem at Wayne varsity [email protected]. He has a daughter at Lahore University for Management who also wants to go abroad – has put five kids thru college and education abroad – must be very resolute couple.

We get into Lahore by noon time – Col Rabbani stays with me till my ride [Asif] shows up. Takes me to their Academy where they offload my bags; are joined by his colleagues going with us to Nanakana Sahib; get into the bigger vehicle and 6 of us move off on our way. On the way they buy some guavas sliced and salted and we eat as we travel. Lots of fun and jokes as we go along. The roads are busy in the city. We pass a particularly busy area and I remark it is crowded and Asif says he grew up there – it is Krishan Nagar; once a nice area where Gyan masi used to live and I had been several times to their house catching a bus from the canal bus stop near college hostel.

On the way Asif asks Matin who is from Nanakana Sahib to call a restaurant there for our lunch when we come in. He does and he also talks about Nanakana Sahib to his colleagues. The town belongs to the Gurdwara – all the land. The Gurdwara has also given the farmland to farmers for farming without any rent. There also have been some recent gas finds in the area and the people believe it is the beneficence of Guru Nanak I am in the front and don’t hear much but his account seems quite empathetic.

The road is 2 lane divided by a verge but it is pretty broke up. There is a lot of industry on the way mainly cotton spinning and weaving – they grow a lot of long staple cotton in these parts. There are some sugar processing units and some others. All in all a pretty active busy area surely also economically important.

We take a turn to the left and that goes to our destination where we get by 4:30 pm and straight go the place for our lunch. A very busy set up – not very clean but full. He has not cooked for us even though Matin had passed the message but soon enough he does – pretty tasty chicken with peppers and nan. All are hungry and we eat well. One of Matin’s friends joins us and insists on paying. I suggest we go to the Gurdwara so I can get a few pictures before the light fades.

At the end of the main street we stop and the fairly impressive entrance is for the Gurdwara. We park in the side and walk in to a nice garden with the Gurdwara at the far end of the garden. We are met by the same kind of security person and he takes down the info and lets my colleagues accompany me. In the meanwhile he must have arranged but the Bhai sahib shows up leading and explaining. I also notice all my companions wearing white caps – given by the Gurdwara as I found out later.

The place is big; the sarovar is kept dry; the walls are clean, painted; the floors swept clean; the bath rooms clean and working; the Parshad is there again. Bhai sahib also does ardas and takes vak. I explain the meaning of the hymn and other things about the faith and service in the Gurdwara. They are astounded and so am I at the size of living facilities for pilgrims coming for 6 days in the year.

There are about 40/50 families here. They don’t seem as deprived. I meet another bhai sahib coming in and the bhai sahib introduces him as the retired granthie. We see the sukh asan room and are taken to another wing where two concurrent akhand path are going on. I ask if this was common – oh yes thru the year. The requests are received when pilgrims visit or by mail and the management sends the vak by mail to the address given.

The place has a Sikh school. In addition the local high school is named after Guru Nanak. The address is Nanakana Sahib and they have not changed as has happened for several other places. The experience is inspiring and the feeling of distress is not that marked. The bhai sahib is well informed. He was asked questions and answered them well even mentioning some comparisons with Quran – the language chaste Punjabi; contents very different from Islam; the prayers and service; langar and so on.

Before returning we go to a mithai shop and we sample the sweets – the anjeer barfi is excellent. I insist on paying – Asif took 2 kg; Naeem 2kg – both anjeer. I took one kg anjeer including some mixed. It was quite liked in Delhi. Somehow we don’t have it there. The price was around 140/kg; in Amritsar the desi ghee mithai was the same rate at the mandir – but the Indian rupee gets around 1.25 Pakistan rupees.

Back late I went into my room and slept soon as I could. It was cold and there was a gas heater but I was not sure how to put it on and did not want it to blow in my face. So I left it alone. The bath room was wet, Indian style – but only for one night.

Monday, Jan 19

I am up usual early and get ready. In the meanwhile my breakfast comes in – one large paratha soaked in ghee with omelet and a pot of tea. Very substantial – I eat though I feel greased up but partly that is my prejudicial reaction. I have experienced it before and it is not nice – one should be thankful and gracious – in thought too.

Asif comes along and we walk around the academy offices – meet the same people again. They are pretty busy. He then takes me for a final meeting with Israr Ahmed. He asks about how it has been. I am thankful genuinely. I talk about the relevance of Sikh thought and Sikh experience in relation to his presentation – he says he does not know much about that and asks if he could have some readings. I promise to send him some books getting back in India. [I sent him Sikh History by Gopal Singh and Randhawa’s commentary on Jap ji because it has the text in Roman. We talked about Gutkas in Urdu and that was news for him. I also mentioned Sheikh Farid and he cited one of his verses asking if it sounded like what he was reciting. I said yes – absolutely. He said it is said that a Muslim saint laid the foundation of Darbar sahib. I said yes that is the common version though I am not sure if it is validated fully. He and Asif are going to India if they get the visas and were traveling by air via Dubai because the flights had not opened when they did the booking. He expects to spend some days at Bombay and then Delhi. He hopes to visit US later this year if he gets the visa. He also shares his fond memories of a Sikh class fellow who initially was brighter than him but later Israr caught and stayed ahead of him till they passed school in ’47 – with a significant lead by Israr. Soon the partition came and Israr’s family moved from Hissar to Lahore where he went to Govt College and then the Medical College. He is a year younger than me but his health is a bit weak – he has both knees replaced and has some other problems. I did like him and greatly admire his intensity even though I did not quite agree with him on several issues. Yet his approach is professed non violent and if that is true and can be kept that way, then he is ok to preach his thought.

I say my good byes and leave. I ask the driver if we could spend a few moments at my college hostel. He is aware of my interest – our having tried earlier but finding the road blocked due to construction. He takes another way and we get there. Yes it is the same place – only looks a bit smaller. I go inside the hostel – outside a shoeshine sits who tells me he is sitting there since the time of Sinclair who was the warden in my time and also the Dean. I tell him Sinclair was a convertee from Sikh. Inside I go straight for my room – #75 Velte Hall. It is so hauntingly reminiscent – I ask the gateman who is living there now and he calls the boy – Jamal Khan Niazi – a fine looking tall lad. Some of his friends join us and I talk to them, take a picture, ask if I can see the room from inside. Niazi takes me and shows me the room – indeed small but cozy. I come out and talk a few brief moments. My roll is finished. I say some peppy encouraging words to them all – we are all touched; shake hands etc and leave.

Coming out the driver asks me if I would take a picture of his. I say yes and as we go to pick up the suit pieces I had selected I buy a film roll and take his pictures – still to be processed and sent to him.

The road back to Wagah was the same – definitely a good clean access along the canal which is being desilted and then thru a messy village which seems to be popular shopping place for the city people. There are lots of vendors like you see in those parts and the prices obviously are cheaper. The driver Lal Faraz tells me how he has taken the Dr sahib all over even when he was not well – lying on a seat in the big van to Dera Ismail Khan and Dera Gazhi Khan etc.

The border crossing was easy. Back on Indian soil I make a deal with the cabbie for taking me to the Rail station, get me a ticket for evening Shetapdi, take me to Darbar sahib and bring me back to the station in time for the train. He did that – had obvious contacts for even though they don’t book tickets after 3 pm – the rail contact wanted to talk to him alone. He came saying it is all done – cost Rs 75. Like it or not it did save me a lot of trouble. At Darbar Sahib, I walked around; took a few pictures; bought some am papar; called Veena; spent a few minutes walking around Jalianwala Bagh; bought a few CD’s and then came back to the station. The driver took the money and brought me the ticket and I went to the train already on the platform.

They feed you crazy on these trains – a water bottle; samosa, gulab jaman, dalbiji; tea; juice; dinner roll and soup; dinner with chicken, a vegetable, yogurt, pulao, two parathas, pickle, salad; ice cream served in about 5 courses over time. The price of the ticket was 475 or so for seniors – the cost of meal could have been half that. Near Delhi the train gets slow coming in due to traffic and we get in around 11 pm. I had asked Veena to come towards Connaught Place side but the train stops on the Ajmeri Gate side. My baggage was heavy and I was tired but we made it. I did pity the coolie – they do have a tough job. Into the car and back in bed by midnight.

SOME COMMENTS ON SIKH SITUATION IN PAKISTAN

  1. THE BORDER CROSSING IS MORE DIFFICULT ON THE Indian side. The people especially immigration and BSF are dry and never smile. They do not want to explain anything. Coming in you have to trudge the bags in over the steps though at the other side they have a ramp. Pakistanis allow the porter to take your baggage thru customs and immigration – it is some comfort in a very antiquated set up and a long walk before you can get across.
  2. In spite of use of computers the use of registers and multiple manual entries on the Indian side is not understood – Pakistanis don’t have computers; but Indians do in spite of computers have replicated Pakistani manual documentation – as a measure of reciprocity.
  3. The only pleasant people were the local women manning the customs – they were helpful and cordial. They also were covering up for the officer who possibly was resting after lunch because one cannot leave till he signs off.
  4. The porters on the Indian side are Sikhs [mainly] and mostly Muslim migrants from Gurgaon inhabit the village of Wagah. There lifeline is the border crossing activity – present conditions possibly more helpful because with almost no vehicular traffic all the goods are transported across by porters switching loads at the boundary line. With the trade opening [and hope it does], these people may have to look for other employment. Also in that scenario the shops an GT road leading into Lahore must spruce up and reorganize to handle the tourist influx and hence potential shoppers/buyers for various things – food, fabrics, Kashmir stuff, souvenirs, entertainment, travel and so on.
  5. Compared to facilities in Lahore the Sikh institutions in Amritsar are poorly equipped and not active enough. We will have to see how to improve this because there is potential here and Lahore and Amritsar can be competing destinations.
  6. Global Sikhs are helping develop additional infra structure at the 3 main Gurdwaras in Pakistan – mainly adding to accommodation facilities for pilgrims who visit twice in the year. This is good but with opening of traffic this asset should be put to more effective use e.g. more frequent celebrations; and helping/guiding Pakistani Sikhs to take to providing hospitality services to Sikh tourists. There is a great need even at Amritsar where just outside Darbar sahib even the facilities are so few. You cannot easily find food or a cup of tea. I found it difficult to buy a towel at 8 am and found no place in walking distance where one could have a breakfast. The Verka outlet sells milk and pinnis – all loaded; otherwise oil soaked puris or mithai. It is one thing to create the sarai facilities but the purpose is not that all should eat in the langar all the time. It may not be what the Gurus wanted because that has an altruistic purpose too. We should think about it and bring some clarity so that these places can serve their purpose better and the visitors can also find it convenient.
  7. Many Arabs seen; few westerners; no Sikhs
  8. There is no Sikh mention or image on the TV; the Hindu presence is thru the Indian [zee/star] channels. I believe there is a radio program in the mornings where some kirtan is transmitted followed by Sikh separatist talk. Asif mentioned that he had heard kirtan on that transmission. He said if I wanted meeting with them could be arranged. I had no interest.
  9. The language spoken is Punjabi/Urdu mix – urban educated more Urdu. There are quite a few speaking Pahari, Kashmiri, Afghani
  10. Jobs are not easy to come by – the main beneficiaries are the Military who have option to get deputed to Civil administration early and continue. The others are that well paid and minorities obviously have few opportunities because there must be a glass screen and ceiling for them in Military.
  11. Pakistan seems to be looking Westward – Arabs, Europe, US. They would like peace with India because they seem to see the futility of conflict or low intensity continued hostility which is draining both. They would like opening borders and exchanges so economies can improve but their orientation is not likely to change
  12. Sikhs are portrayed negatively in their History books including people like Ghazi – even expensive touristy publications portray Sikh rule as oppressive and unjust. Asif and his friends asked me how Muslims are portrayed in India because he said they were taught in School that Sikhs are tyrants etc. It is reality that they have a reluctant respect for Hindus but the butt of their wrath has been Sikhs – possibly for various reasons. Those that I sense are:
    • Sikhs are the only Indians who dislodged their rule and established theirs instead other than the British none could do it. They resent it – they have come to a closure with the British thinking you can’t fight the very strong. With Sikhs it was thru creation of Pakistan that they were able to wrest their kingdom back. The fact is Pakistan is what bulk of Sikh kingdom was.
    • Sikhs also have to realize that the boundary line that Radcliffe devised is man made and can change as boundaries have changed throughout history. However people have mostly stayed – the experience of massive transfer of population in ’47 apart. In any event across the border Sikhs will always have to deal with Pakistani Muslims with their world view and their perception of the Sikhs. In their long term interest as neighbors Sikhs therefore must make an attempt to understand the Pakistani common man’s view of the Sikhs. For this the view of the Ulema and Maulvis will have to be understood. The historians and social scientists are also important – politicians less so. Pakistanis gloat over the Sirhind school, the Hissar school, the jihad against Sikh rule and the support given to the British to destabilize Sikh kingdom. They also say that several Muslim Kings were wrong and did incorrect things – not Islamic but for personal glory, wealth and luxury. Many like Akbar are cited as Hinduized and the heroes are Mohd Tughlaq, Khilji, bin Kassem who tried to rule by sharia. Many mystic traditions are condemned for bein influenced by Hindu practices. At the same time they are conscious of their Hindu roots prior to [more recent] conversion and with distance as well as relative success of India as an economy and stable polity they have a grudging respect for the Hindus. Not so for the Sikhs – Sikhs are unpredictable; they are brave but will fight for others; they caved in during 80’s; they leadership; their scholarship? When I said about the Islamic revolution that it may expose Muslims in non Muslim societies at risk and that may impede support as apparently happened in case of Sikhs, their response was that in pursuit of ambitious objectives major sacrifices have to be made and must be accepted.
    • Given the importance that Pakistani view of Sikhs may have for them, the Sikhs must work out a unique approach of how to handle this. In my sense the common man besides what the media and books say thinks Sikhs to be merry go lucky, hail well met, eat drink enjoy, types with a monotheistic belief, brave though unpredictable. The Ulema resent the past experience and are wary of Sikhs. The intellectuals are unaware of Sikhs – faith, scholarship, and their accomplishments. One comment was that Sikhs are the fifth largest faith in the world – how come we know nothing about Sikhi or Sikhs.
    • We have a shared history, a shared language, shared traits and we come from that land of the pure that gave birth to Sita, Farid, Nanak, and several others. We must carve out a future where we can celebrate our shared heritage in spite of any boundaries that may separate us. This way we can assure some amity in the region and more importantly take care of our holy sites and Sikhs in Pakistan
    • Pakistani Sikhs are subdued – though they don’t say a thing. They need help to get out of the cycle of poverty and isolation. We must not consign them to be and stay being granthies for this will not only deteriorate the quality of service to our religious institutions but also create potential mahants who have to depend on the service of Gurdwaras for their economic needs. They should be helped to get education, go into professions and be good competitive citizens. They should be helped to take advantage of opening trade links and tourism.
    • Our focus should include not only adding to the serai but also improving the state of Sikh heritage in Pakistan – the Lahore Fort, Museum displays, books, literature, gurbani and sangeet.
    • The Muslim world is in turmoil but its effects have most tellingly impacted Sikhs since the time the first ever Muslim state was created without having been through conquest – the neighboring state has seen three wars; has been denied development for fear of proximity; has been denied political voice because of again ‘unpredictability’ of Sikhs without saying it.

The Sikhs therefore need to rethink. All faiths are trying to understand the Muslim mind and making serious efforts to develop some relationship with them including Hindus who in spite of Babri Masjid and Hindutva are more accommodating of Muslims than of Sikhs or Christians. For Sikhs the Muslim world is mainly Pakistan and Muslim opinion is Pakistani mind. They must work to improve it and they must remember that in the 80’s Muslims quietly accepted Sikh massacre – they also hold Sikhs as British collaborators in 1857. Hindus have named that as the first war of independence even though the Hindus did not work for the Muslim rule to stay or come back. In fact the main beneficiaries of the British rule were the Hindu Babu class from Bengal and Madras who learnt English and got jobs as they did earlier by learning Punjabi, Urdu or Persian as the age and times demanded.

The Sikh decision to stay with India and not accept Jinnah’s offer was probably the better course given their situation. But their future is not only going to be determined by their relations with the Hindus. The Muslim influence can’t be wished away and that influence is the Pakistani thought – not merely the bonhomie of the Pir of Dargah Nizamuddin or some Indian Muslims who may occasionally give a nod of acquaintance to Sikhs.

Sikhs should also think about:

  • Sikh stereotyping in the US is perhaps partly out of ignorance and partly an expression of resentment against immigrants but in India it is out of malice and calculation or deep rooted prejudice based on transmitted memory or received impressions
  • Islam also was considered a X’ian heresy in the beginning – so the Hindu response is understandable
  • The seeds of X’ian – Muslim conflict lie in lack of acceptance of Islam as a triumphant, rival world religion
  • Quran also has been portrayed as a mutilated version of Bible
  • Islam has been portrayed as a violent religion by other semitic faiths as Sikhs are by other Indic faiths; but Muslims never claimed to be sword arm of any other faith and accepted the mantle of militancy for protecting those who continue to lead the chorus to stereotype them as militants
  • Ottoman’s entry into Constantinople was triumphant and deeply resented by X’ian Europe – the Sikh entry into Kabul or Delhi was no less triumphant and as much resented
  • X’ians and Jews have traversed the stages Medievalism to Renaissance to Reformation and Modernity; Sikhs and Muslims have to go thru that yet

[prepared for meeting Tarlochan Singh – not used]

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